Wednesday, June 12, 2013

dotting the i's and crossing the x's

The world is going insane. Paul Thurrot (who just dissed the PS4 in a - very - biased article) is calling iOS 7 "unique" and The Verge (which should be called iVerge, really), in turn, is giving iOS a hard time by calling it "confusing" and listing all the features it apes from other OSes.

What a way to start a week. I had already planned to discuss the GoT's finale and Harry Potter (which I will, for reasons I will explain when I do), but then Apple decided to announce everything and the kitchen sink at WWDC - and with both Microsoft's (minor) and Sony's (major) announcements at E3, I had suddenly too much to talk about. So just a heads up: I will be discussing iOS7, iTunes Radio and the Mac Pro (in lesser degree), a little bit of Xbox and almost nothing of the PS4.

iOS7. Where to begin? This is one of the cases in which the expectation leading up to the event was more interesting than the event itself (though, thinking back, that pretty much describes all big tech reveals nowadays - I half expected an #occupymicrosoft movement over whether the Xbox would require an always-on Internet connection). People who can't draw a straight line for the life of them were suddenly discussing the advantages of flat design and roots of skeumorphism in anticipation of Apple's big announcement. In the end, it was neither an "wow" nor a "buuu" - it was a "meh". Yes, shadows and volume are gone, leaving us with flat icons painted in Teletubbies colours (ahem, Android). Yes, now icons float above the background creating a Parallax effect when they move (ahem, Windows Phone). Yes, now transparent menus lay atop of each other (ahem, Windows Vista? 2006 called to let us know Metro is out and Aero is making a comeback).

iOS7 isn't, unlike many of its brethren new Apple products, an incremental upgrade (which itself is bad). Because an incremental upgrade, in my opinion, is an adaptation of a product to new realities of the field and market to which it belongs (4G, for example, or 4K definition). This is not the case. What Apple is doing with iOS7 is plain catching up, "introducing" features that were part of other OS from the start. Tried and true features that have been going around for years. And, it pains me to say this, one can forgive companies like Microsoft for playing catch up, because, you know, it's sort of the latecomer to any - ANY - party. But to see Apple, which has always been a beacon of innovation, simplicity and awesomeness (and which I, on principle, always hated), putting old, well known features in iOS7 and calling it  the biggest change on iOS since the original iPhone really gets me kind of depressed. Ok, so maybe Apple didn't really innovate before, but at least it took other's ideas - like the tablet - which weren't reaching full potential, and made them cool, accessible and mainstream. Now it's just taking other's ideas, period. Innovation has long abandoned ship to reside in Google, Nokia, Samsung (and yes, even Microsoft).

Look at iTunes Radio. What is this? How is it any different from Rdio, Pandora, Spotify, even, rest in peace? I mean, it's not like it's the iTunes catalogue in your hands for a monthly price, because if you want to listen to a specific track you still have to buy it. Microsoft's Xbox Music, on the other hand, has bad radio options (Smart DJ mixes have been, in my experience, invariably crappy and with an annoying tendency to play Nicole Scherzinger's "Wet" again and again) but you can listen to ANY song in the catalogue for a monthly fee. Pay an annual iTunes subscription and what do you get? Song matching in the cloud (also offered by Xbox Music) and the same radio that's available for free - but without ads! Wow, that's amazing! Count me in! Not!

The only product I would dare to call innovative is the Mac Pro. Who cares about the Mac Pro, you ask? Mostly no one, I know. Designers, hipsters and cool people in general are all happy to use MacBook Airs and even iMacs - for the initiated - but the Mac Pro was restricted to power users who still wouldn't get a PC - mainly indie professionals on the film industry. To them, WWDC brought a very very nice surprise - their already potent but otherwise ignored machine got an extreme makeover and now looks like something that appeared on the middle of a crater in Central Park, sorround by miles of yellow "do not cross" tape. Touch it and you will open Pandora's box. Not so much because it's tiny and beautiful, but because it doesn't look nothing like a computer - which, granted, the Mac Mini didn't as well, but this is a power computer, people! This is the kind of thing I expect from Apple: changing the landscape. Don Lehman at Gizmodo imagined how a server farm of this things would look, and I have to agree, it would look awesome, if not scary - I'd half expect black fluid to start oozing from them before the Aliens hatch. Who knows, in a few years all computers could be the size and shape of soda cans, thanks to Apple.

So that's that. I'm disappointed with iOS7, iTunes Radio and OS X Mavericks (which I didn't mention because, really, I don't care that much. The only really interesting thing is using Apple TV as a monitor - Microsoft HAS to make this happen with SmartGlass - and Keychain, but I can already see the horrible hacking stories of people having all their passwords and credit card data stolen because they were all in one place. Didn't Pearl Harbour teach Americans anything?). I'm disappointed at Apple in general, for their lack of innovation, a concept they still throw around in buckets through their marketing department but which, really, nobody's buying anymore. Only the Mac Pro represents a glimmer of hope in a mostly boring state of affairs.

Moving on to Microsoft and the Xbox One. The Internet has had its time to discuss it (mostly before it lunched), digest it, mock it, and do everything but demand a White House statement on it. So really, was yesterday's event necessary? Yes, of course it was. For one, it's E3, you have to be there, specially if you manufacture the number one selling console  - duh. And two, because something people like to throw around is the idea that Microsoft has "forgotten about gamers" and it's focusing too much on media consumption, so E3 is where you talk to this disgruntled users and assure them that games are coming and everything will be awesome. To them, I have the following statement: If Microsoft had forgotten about gamers, this thing wouldn't be the size of a truck (look at Apple TV). It's internals are all about playing games. But since research shows people actually spend more time on their consoles consuming media than playing, it's only natural that Microsoft should want to focus on how it can do that too just as well. It is still going to play games. So chill. And grow up. And stop watching the Netflix-exclusive House of Cards on your Xbox or those research numbers are still going to show you spend more time doing that than playing games (I know I do).

Small comment on the Xbox One, as this blog wasn't up when it was announced: it's an incremental upgrade. I felt underwhelmed. I had hoped for surprises, for a true next generation, something on the vein of the launch of Xbox Live. Instead I got 2013's version of the Xbox 360.

Now to yesterdays announcements/confirmations:

- Xbox One will have to connect to the internet at least once a day / no selling used games: stupid decisions, really. Microsoft can truly be its own worst enemy, like when it decided that Netflix or Xbox Music could only be used with Gold subscriptions, forcing the user to pay two seaparate fees for services taht, anywhere else, only require one. I just don't get how they expect users to put up with this decisions and the frown when "everything's-free" Google gets the love. It's the 21st century, people! My Xbox dashboard is already populated with unwanted ads, so I don't want to pay for subscriptions, I don't want to deal with games' DRM and I don't want to have to be online all the time (but I do, though, and I hate myself for it. Maybe #occupymicrosoft isn't such a bad idea after all). Build a marketing strategy that allows you to profit without harassing the user and be done with it. Or else (what?).

- Xbox 360 new edition: was this really needed? I don't know what it means, besides a promise - "keep buying the 360 until the One comes out, ok? We'll keep making games for it". Whatever. It looks like a Blu Ray player. Microsoft has yet to top the 360 S design.

- Xbox One Day One edition: Whatever [2].

- Ditching Microsoft Points in favour of local currency: this is not even catching up, it's awakening form cryogenic sleep.

- Other changes to Xbox Live and new games: yes, whatevs, bring about the next Halo, that's all we're really waiting for.

And on PS4: there's only two line of products I remotely care from Sony and those are a) Bravia TVs (as much as you can care for a TV) and b) the PlayStation Vita, the only platform to take mobile gaming seriously. That aside, the PlayStation brand as a whole is just so not interesting right now. People like it for gaming, so go game on it. It doesn't require always-on Internet connections and won't care if your game is used so it has that going for it as well.

Please wait a long time before announcing anything again. Like, a month, at least. I've begun to dread "great announcements" where "everything will change". It just means my Google Reader feed explode with 3.534 takes on the same subjects. Not for long, anyway, now that Google Reader is being deactivated. Damn it, not even Google can get its sh*t straight.


  1. Brilliant blog post! Loved it, keep going dude :)

  2. LOL. You mentioned PS4 in your opening paragraph on the first line. But you didnt say shit about it. Hilarious. Go check out the videos on the UX it provides and the platform. Not to mention they are $100 cheaper already.